The forum was sponsored by the Student Government Association of Hazard Community and Technical College and featured Democratic candidates Troy Gaw, of Harlan County, and Benny Ray Bailey, Fitz Steele and Chester Jones, of Perry County.
Gaw stressed the importance of an improved educational system and eliminating the drug problem in Harlan and Perry counties throughout the forum.
“When I look into the eyes of our young people, I see that they are not getting the opportunity to succeed that they should be getting. To make matters worse we have drug problem that is taking the lives of our children on a daily basis. These areas touch my heart,” Gaw said. “It sickens me to see the lives of these children taken away and brought down a dirty dangerous drug infested road. Until these areas are addressed we can’t move forward.”
Gaw told those in attendance that he would like to be known as a citizen than a politician.
“I am just an ordinary citizen. I am just like each and every one of you. I go to work everyday and come home and raise my family. These are the qualities that we need in Frankfort,” Gaw said. “I hope to never be considered a politician. I want to be a brother in arms against the battle of drugs and inadequate education in this area. Together with you we can do that.”
Fellow Democratic candidate Chester Jones said higher education should be a priority in Frankfort.
“Our last session of the legislature was over on April 15 and higher education got very little help. Those that are college students are looking at a 13 percent increase in tuition if you came back to Hazard Community College next year,” Jones said. “If you are a school teacher or state employee you will only receive a 1 percent increase in salary over the next 12 months. Whoever goes to the legislature needs to work on an increase in salary for teachers and state employees.”
Jones also pointed to his political ties as a strength.
“If you are getting ready to build a house you look for experience. You get the most experienced builder you can find,” he said. “I have 30 years experience in public affairs. I have the contacts in Frankfort to do a good job.”
Benny Ray Bailey said a strong educational system is essential to the progress of Harlan and Perry counties and stressed the importance of increasing the area’s funding.
“By and far the most important way to affect change is to make sure we have a strong educational system that has the same caliber of ability as anywhere else in the state. We have to fund higher education, to make it affordable for our children to go to school and give them the same access and opportunity as children across the state,” Bailey said. “We have gone far too long in this area of the state allowing monies to be distributed in an unequal fashion, to our deficit, and that has to stop. We should address education and health care, but the number one thing that we have to address is the treatment by the state to this area. As your state representative, I will be the most vocal advocate for our rights in this area that you have ever known.”
Bailey also spoke of his political experience and said he would work to move the counties forward.
“I have been around politics my entire life. I have enjoyed it, and it has been a part of me. Having connections in Frankfort is great but I don’t think one of us will have a closed door to the lieutenant governor. As far as I know, he is willing to help this area. I think he would help any of us if we came to him,” Bailey said. “The one promise I can make each individual in Harlan and Perry County is I will not rest, I will not silence my voice, and I will not stop until everybody takes seriously the problems and works toward the advancement of the people in eastern Kentucky.”
Fitz Steele said he was the only candidate who could create change in Frankfort.
“Tonight you have heard three other candidates propose answers to the same old problems that keep existing in our area. I am the only candidate to go up to create real change and bring real change to our area,” Steele said. “I am willing to work across party lines with state and federal agencies to bring back projects to our area. For so long we have been promised better roads, better schools and better education for our young people. It never happens because career politicians in Frankfort get up there and bicker between parties. I’m not a career politician, I don’t talk the talk but I do walk the walk.”
Steele said he recognizes the problems facing residents of Harlan and Perry counties.
“I have brought prudent progress to my community. I am a family man. I have three children,” he said. “I understand the troubles that our families are suffering in our area. I understand the hardships that face all of our citizens that have drug problems in their family.”